Journal article

Water and health interlinkages of the sustainable development goals in remote Indigenous Australia

Remote health Aboriginal water use Indigenous health drinking water Australia

Australia has committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goals under the UN’s 2030 Agenda. However, these goals may not be fully achieved in Australia under current policy settings. Australia reports success in achieving the goal for quality and access to safe drinking water and sanitation, though for Australians living in remote Indigenous communities, the experience is very different. Furthermore, the burden of disease is higher in remote communities. Many of these diseases are waterborne or hygiene-related, including prevalence in some remote Indigenous communities of endemic trachoma eye infection, preventable through access to functioning water services and available soap. This research provides a case for identifying, then understanding the interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goals locally, as well as nationally. This will enable governments to enact policies for long-term sustainable solutions for remotely-located and marginalised peoples in Australia in line with Agenda 2030 commitments.

The research team included two Aboriginal Australians, to ensure appropriate portrayal and communication of the results. The research employed a case study design to respond to this objective. The case study approach involved three methods. Firstly, a literature and information review was conducted to understand the range of issues on which health interacts with water and sanitation. Secondly, and building on this initial review, the relevant SDG targets and their associated indicators for health. Finally, an analytical process of deliberation connected the data from the review to the SDG targets. This was undertaken by the authors through dialogue and debate drawn from the supporting literature.

The results and discussion are combined into a single section as the social determinants of health are critical in understanding the context of the results and the way in which many of the SDGs are affected. In taking this approach, the focus is on the social environment rather than more specific aspects of health services and behaviour that arise from the determinants. When considering Indigenous health in Australia, social determinants describe the causal pathways of ill-health which can include poverty and inequality, and thus also includes access to essential services, including health services and water and sanitation services.

Further research is required to ensure accurate data that reflects the complete and detailed status of each country’s progress against the SDGs. Given that high-income countries should be aiming for 100% compliance with SDG indicators, ensuring detailed data from an appropriately local-level sources is required. With Indigenous peoples estimated around 4% of the Australian population, and fewer again in remote communities, their health challenges are easily glossed over in the aggregate data. Despite the challenges, these interrelationships indicate that addressing the relevant SDGs in combination can more effectively progress the goals and targets. In this case study, identifying then understanding the interlinkages between SDG targets goals can enable development of long-term sustainable solutions for remotely-located and marginalised peoples in Australia and internationally.

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